When the first-ever Hell’s Kitchen All-Stars edition debuts, Newburyport residents will see some familiar faces. Jennifer Normant, who helms the kitchen at Sea Level Oyster Bar in Newburyport, and Nick Peters Bond, who is currently working in management and behind the bar at Mission Oak Grill, are both competing for the top prize in this, the show’s 17th season.
Hell’s Kitchen is a reality TV competition show driven by its passionate, talented, and foul-mouthed host, Gordon Ramsay. The Fox program pits professional chefs against each other, with the grand prize of a job working for the chef in one of his restaurants.
“[Friends and family] think I’m a little crazy for putting myself through this again,” says Normant, who made it to fifth place in season nine of the show, surviving the drama, cursing, and fury of notoriously volatile chef Gordon Ramsay. “But to be picked as an All-Star was such an honor, I just had to do it.”
Bond, who also made it to fifth place, but in season 14, says his parents find his return to Hell’s Kitchen “hilarious” – but he was grateful to see a friendly face on the set. He worked for Normant at Sea Level Salem. “It is such a stressful situation, having someone you know there was nice, but kind of a double-edged sword, because she is also my competition.”
Nick Peters Bond
Similarly, Normant had nothing but kind words for Bond. However, there was another contestant she was not pleased to see—Elise Harris, who recently admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that during season 9, she “kind of threw [Normant] under the bus and ran her over.”
“They brought back my arch-rival,” Normant says. “It was tough seeing her after six years. A lot of feelings came up.”
Beyond that, Normant’s lips are sealed. While filming on the show has already wrapped, there will be no spoilers here. Except to say the stakes, and the stress, were even higher in the All-Stars season: the winner will be awarded a top job at Ramsay’s brand-new Hell’s Kitchen Las Vegas restaurant. Perhaps because of that, the expectations— and torment—are even greater.
“It’s like Hell’s Kitchen times 10,” Normant says. “They made it way harder.”
For example, chefs were told the first challenge would be cooking their signature dishes—the way every previous season started. Normant was planning to make a seared cod with a shitake mushroom relish. But when she opened her box of ingredients, instead of fish, she found rack of lamb, sweet potatoes, and eggplant.
“It was completely opposite,” Normant recalls. But all the stress was worthwhile. “Cooking for a Michelin-starred chef is unbelievable,” she says. “Chef Ramsay is hard on you and pushes you, but only to get the best out of you.”
Tune in to Hell’s Kitchen All-Stars on Fox, Friday at 8 p.m., or join one of the dueling viewing parties in Newburyport. Normant will be dishing up some Hell’s Kitchen themed appetizers at Sea Level starting at 7 p.m., while Bond will be behind the bar at Mission Oak, where the show can be viewed on a big screen on their back patio.